Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Politics of Compromise

Why is it that we consider people who never change their minds as more virtuous than people who look for compromise? With some sections of the media those voices farthest to the left, in our system represented by the Greens, are seen as the most principled and thus the most virtuous. Other sections of the media look to the hardline right wing positions of the Nationals, and especially the Queensland Nationals, as the only principled politicians in the system. But is the idea of compromise really such an unprincipled position?
When it comes to people arriving in Australia by boat, the extremes not only describe these people differently but are also sure their solution alone is correct. The right is convinced that these ‘queue jumpers’ aided by ‘people smugglers’ must be halted at all costs. According to the left these ‘poor refugees’ must be treated with compassion, justice and mercy. I have never written about boat people before as I find that the analysis of both the left and right on this issue shows both are partially correct and both are to some degree misguided. Surely someone has to admit that this is a very difficult issue with competing values and objectives. We do want to be a just and caring society. But at the same time we don’t want to be a soft touch, encouraging people to take risky sea journeys and fuelling an industry that exploits people who are both vulnerable and willing to take the law into their own hands. When someone knocks on our church office door for money we face the same dilemma. We want to be kind and find a way to genuinely help people, some of whom have very real needs. But if our policy is too soft and we simply hand over cash, we don’t actually help most people and in fact the message seems to get out and the problem only grows.
When it comes to deciding what to do about water allocations in Australia, we face another right - left divide which again is not that simple. If we listen to the right, then the needs of farmers and food security trumps the environment. If we listen to the left, then the river’s health is more important than the maintenance of farming families and communities under threat.
The much-scorned act of political compromise may be more virtuous than it first appears. Surely to balance competing interests is to really understand the issue from both sides. Is that not what we do every day in our most important relationships? Great relationships - friendships, marriages and even business partnerships, are fuelled by a willingness to consider someone else’s needs, not just our own. Ideological husbands destroy their marriages and exasperate their kids. Domineering, controlling wives and mothers leave a trail of relational wreckage. Teenage immaturity is by definition when a 15 year old cares only about his or her own needs.
If you take the words of Jesus seriously, then we need to understand as well as be understood. We have to give as well as take. We need to do unto others as you would have them do to you. 
Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Luke 6:31

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

One Man’s Weeds

Like most gardens our Sydney suburban block contains its fair share of weeds. Some are nasty but only grow for a season. Others are persistent and are hard to eradicate. My greatest enemy has always been Tradescantia Fluminernsis. You have probably never heard of Tradescantia Fluminernsis because the weed has the much more common and much less politically correct common name of Wandering Jew. Two of my adjoining neighbours have the weed in plague proportions and with moisture and heat the weed seems to quickly pass through fences and appear in abundance in our yard. It is not a difficult weed to remove but its sheer bulk can be something to behold. It creeps along the ground with shallow suckers and roots and if the slightest amount is left it will spread the weed again.

This year we received a couple of new additions to the family in the form of a pair of rather cute Isa Brown chooks, who we named Hattie and Rosie. In recent times two more crossbred Rhode Island Reds, Holly and Molly, have joined them. What has surprised me most about these fowls is their love for Wandering Jew. I built their considerable run over my most out of control Wandering Jew patch at the back of our yard, which is now weed free. Now I delight in harvesting the weeds in other places in the yard in anticipation of giving the girls their greens. Without a Monsanto owned chemical in sight, my weeds are being processed into very yummy eggs. One man’s weeds are indeed another chooks delight.

In our little back yard I am amazed at the cycle of life that delights everyday: the frogs that come occasionally to lay their tadpole eggs in our little wine barrel pond at our back door; the lizard that lives under the wine barrel and enjoys a lazy sunny day on our pavers, but scurries back under the barrel when interrupted; the native parrots that have adapted to feeding off a Pink Salvia that probably had its origins in South America; the blue tongue lizards that enjoy a crunching good snack on those pesky snails.

Don’t get me wrong - it’s not the Garden of Eden. I still haven’t worked out the place in nature for those stink bugs on my citrus that stain my hands for weeks when I try to relocate them to a bucket of water. The native birds that are a delight also seem to occasionally enjoy a bite from my Japanese strawberries. Tiny slugs can decimate seedlings in hours and seem to delight in eating young vulnerable plants, when they are welcome to have a munch on the old stuff.
The Old Book has a simple conclusion for God’s creation – that it is good: the mountains, the sea, the sky, the rivers, the lakes and even a suburban backyard. I must admit I love to travel and see the beauty of the world, but I also love to pause in my own backyard to see the same wonders of creation at work.

Consider yourself fortunate that I have reached my word limit and the compost sermon will have to wait until another day!  

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  Genesis 1: 31

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Lot Can Happen In A Week

Last Sunday I heard the very sad news of the death of Peter Roebuck, aged 55. If you’re not a cricket fan that name might not mean much to you, but for cricket fans Roebuck was one of the most respected and loved voices of radio cricket, as well as a much admired cricket columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Roebuck never tired of having his own unique perspective on the game. His radio commentary was always lucid, often humorous, deeply insightful and occasionally even a little caustic. In many ways his columns continued the legacy of the late, great Bill O’Reilly with wit, irreverence and charm. The upcoming cricket season will be much the poorer without the presence of Peter Roebuck.
The mystery of his death has been widely reported in Australia. The Australian press stated that there was nothing suspicious about his death and that the last person to see him was a police officer who said he was in a somewhat distressed state. The Australian press repeated the phrase that he was found dead in his hotel room. It has now been reported, first in other countries and now belatedly in Australia, that Roebuck committed suicide. It is now being widely stated that he had fallen (jumped) to his death from his sixth floor hotel room following a visit from the police.
In his last column Roebuck, responding to the debacle of Australia’s defeat in South Africa, reflected on which Australian players may be facing the axe. Ironically Roebuck’s penultimate sentence used these words:
“Mind you, a lot can happen in a week.“

To take one's life is a decision based on the conclusion that there is no other way out. When despair and depression overtake our normal mindset, we become convinced that nothing will ever change. Faced with life’s problems and the despair of our own weakness, many often feel like there is no hope. When we have an abundance of problems caused by others, by ourselves, or by bad luck, we often feel there is no way forward.

For believers our hope is always for a better day. A lot can happen in a week. A run of luck can change. The impact of others on our lives can be reduced by their behavior changing or our reactions being different. Even our darkest personal problems can find light when we face the mess, humble ourselves before God and determine to start again. Sometimes God mercifully parts the clouds and the sun shines again. To know that our mess is always still in God’s hands is a comfort and blessing.

Our circumstances will often seem bleak and at those times, with faith, we need to live in hope, as …. a lot can happen in a week.

My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me.  Psalm 31:15

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Not So Predictable

Many longstanding readers of Word4Life often second-guess my topic for the week. People frequently comment: “I knew you would write about that!” My guess is that everyone will be surprised when I announce my topic for this week – art, or more particularly, sculpture.
I confess to being rather unschooled when it comes to this topic. But at this time every year, Wendy and I head off to an art exhibition that about half a million people in Sydney adore. Every year a sublime coastal walk is transformed into a seaside art gallery, as over 100 works of sculpture are spread across the cliffs and on the beach from Tamarama Beach to Bondi Beach. What’s even better is that it’s free, as long as you can find somewhere to park.
People of all ages, and especially children, love this yearly event, starting this year on 3rd November and running for almost three weeks. Yes it is crowded if you go at a busy time, but being on show from dawn to dusk for 17 days gives people ample time to enjoy some very accessible art. Each year I am inspired, not only by the skill of the people who make the sculptures, but by the ideas that lie behind their creations. A giant waterspout with matching hot and cold taps set on a cliff sounds like a really weird idea, but each year the creativity is something special.
For many, what really makes this exhibition is the setting that forms the backdrop of the sculptures. Sydney is blessed with a coastline that is in itself a glorious work of art, but when the artists not only locate their sculptures in such beauty, but also use the setting to highlight their art, then the art and the coast come together, at times almost as one.
My senses appreciate not only the art but also the artist who created the work. It’s obvious that these works are not random accidents, but the painstaking work of design, creativity, imagination and skill.
The same set of senses declare, at least to me, that the cliffs, ocean, beaches and sea seem also to be the work of creative design. Sure that part of the coast has had some man made changes, but in spite of human involvement the coast is still so beautiful. The colours and moods can change with the fluctuation of the weather. The cliffs and beaches are also changing over time with the ravages of the wind and waves.
Still the picture remains the work of creation, design and wonder.
The sea is his (God’s), for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.  Psalm 95: 5

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Post Gaddafi Paradise? I Still Doubt It.

Understandably the capture and death of Muammar Gaddafi was widely celebrated by the people of Libya, but surely many others around the world must have watched his bloody body being paraded in the streets and his summary execution as frightening developments. He may have deserved this treatment in every way, but the mob taking revenge on the streets can hardly give confidence to the West that the future will be better than the past in any way. The USA and NATO’s military support for this supposed flowering of democracy seems to have again completely ignored the reality of Islam in that part of the world and the popular desire to replace Gaddafi, not with a liberal democracy, but with a Muslim State based on Sharia Law.
Last week, while celebrating his country’s new-found freedom, the Head of the Interim Government, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, indicated that one of the fruits of the revolution would be the reintroduction of polygamy. Under Gaddafi a law was passed that stipulated that wives had to grant permission for their husbands to acquire a second wife. The result of Gaddafi’s law was that polygamy was very rare in Libya. Mr Jalil defended what he believed the people had been fighting for:
“This law is contrary to Sharia and must be stopped,'' Mr Jalil said, vowing the new government would adhere more faithfully to Sharia. The next day he reiterated the point: ''Sharia allows polygamy,'' he said.

Of course the remarks outraged women in Libya and many others throughout the world. The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, whose forces had helped overthrow Gaddafi said: ''This is a problem for us, especially in regard to respect for the dignity of women.''

It seems that in the West we hold to two absolute religious mantras that we refuse to reconsider in spite of overwhelming evidence. The first mantra is that religion in most people’s lives is really not that important. The second is that all religion is essentially the same thing and in the end pretty benign, private and irrelevant. In many ways our theological naivety may be opening a door to the sort of religious practices that not only oppress women, but lead to the most regressive, harsh and intolerant societies.

Ask the Coptic Christians in Egypt if they think the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ is resulting in freedom and democracy. Tony Blair recently said that if we want to understand the world today, then we are going to have to understand religion. It’s about time the West overcame its secular delusion and faced the reality that for millions, their dream is not liberal democracy but Sharia law. 

“The fool folds his hands and ruins himself. Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind.”  Ecclesiastes 4: 5-6